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Reports: high schools are deteriorating

By Natasha Clark

Reminder Assistant Editor

Back in 1955 Longmeadow High School (LHS) was constructed. A year later Minnechaug Regional High School (MRHS) was built.

More than 50 years later both schools are still standing and facing severe deterioration, according to research and reports provided by both school districts over the last two years.

MRHS built additions in 1963 and 1972. LHS has had four additions, the last in 1971.Other than annual repairs and maintenance improvements, both schools have not been significantly altered in 34 years.

These are tight fiscal times for both school districts. Last year, due to the Proposition 2 1/2 override failure in Hampden, the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School Committee lowered their budget by $200,000. Longmeadow is facing a possible decrease of $400,000 in revenue this year. If the district does not reinstate the school choice program for FY07, that decrease could climb to $700,000.

The student populations in both districts continue to grow. The number of students in Hampden/Wilbraham's school district has increased by approximately 50 percent in the past decade. Since 1991 the Longmeadow school district has grown by 604 students. FY07 enrollment is projected to be 3,219 (exclusive of Pre-K).

In order to prepare for the future both schools had to take a look at their current state, and they enlisted the help of residents. Both communities established committees to evaluate the buildings for MRHS the Feasibility Study Committee and for LHS the Longmeadow High Facility Improvement Committee.

In 2004, The Feasibility Committee felt that the damages of MRHS were serious enough to warrant the study of it by an architectural firm, enlisting Dore & Whittier Architects, Inc. to conduct a feasibility study.

Eight miles away in Longmeadow, Kastle Boos Associates, Inc. conducted a facility assessment and space needs study.

The bleak findings of both schools were revealed in 2005 reports.

The list of problems included decay, handicap accessibility issues, corrosion, cracks, uneven surfaces and more accumulating damages.

Both school committees hosted tours and public forums. A reoccurring theme among the two were that not many residents turned out to the events and those who did were regular meeting attendees.

Some concerned citizens in Wilbraham wanted the district to get NEASC (the New England Association of Schools and Colleges) involved in the process while some in Longmeadow felt the school department should limit their involvement with NEASC.

The Hampden/Wilbraham Regional School Committee hired an independent consultant to look at the facility, again, after the Feasibility Committee and Dore & Whittier did.

After Kastle Boos' initial report of LHS in October 2004, they came back with a more in-depth report in July 2005 after working closely with the Facility Committee.

After each district contemplated the options their architects presented -- from a spate of minor renovations that just addressed legal mandates, to building a new facility -- both district's committees recommended to build a new high school.

July 1, 2007 is the earliest deadline to submit a project to the to the Massachusetts School Building Authority for consideration.

In January School Building Authority announced a Statement of Interest form as a new step in the submission process, in which priorities that a project should meet are listed.

MRHS meets four of the eight criteria, and Superintendent of Longmeadow Public Schools Dr. Scott AndersEn told Reminder Publications in late January that at the time the School Committee did not have an official position on whether or not building a new LHS was a good or bad decision.

The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District is in agreement that building a new MRHS is the smartest option, because most of the project is reimbursable.

Whether or not residents from either town want renovations or new schools remains to be seen. Hampden is still trying to recover from severe budget cuts that closed their library and senior center, and shaved back services in the Police and Highway departments; Longmeadow is reorganizing the Department of Public Works and consolidating several positions and departments in the town.

While surrounding cities like Chicopee have built new high schools prior to changes at the state level, the school committees and voters in these districts will determine, sooner or later, what the future of these two high schools will be.